Around this time last year, I was weaving my way through my first UoM freshers fair. Except – plot twist – I certainly wasn’t a fresher.
I was just beginning my master’s degree in science communication, and to say I was overwhelmed would be quite the understatement. But now that I’ve successfully avoided completed my degree, secured my first postgraduate job, made memories of a lifetime, and yes – even navigated the waves of overly-eager 18-year-olds crammed into Manchester Academy – I have a few thoughts for incoming master’s students that I wish I knew for my first UoM chapter.
Making the transition
Compared to my undergrad degree, my master’s was like entering a foreign country. To be fair, I literally was entering a foreign country (shoutout to other international postgrad students).
Anyway, I was surprised by how independent my degree was. I had to complete lots of reading and writing in near-complete solitude. With fewer check-ins, I had to take it upon myself to set my schedule and seek help when I needed it.
Beyond the adjustment to independent learning, I was pleasantly surprised by how small my cohort was. Undergraduate degrees – through their large lecture theatres and more generalised coursework – often come with some sense of anonymity. Yet with many UoM postgrad courses, you’ll be surrounded with an intimate group of incredibly driven, passionate, and talented individuals. Take advantage of this. Your cohort will become a valuable resource as you navigate everything from coursework to lifelong friendships to first job applications.
Preparing for postgrad life
Before entering my master’s year, I braced myself for the most strenuous experience of my life. I stockpiled and read literature all summer before starting, obsessively afraid that I was already falling behind. I think I even told my family to start preparing my funeral service should I not emerge the following autumn.
Perhaps you don’t have to be so melancholic, but there are still some things to do before delving into your master’s. For starters, I recommend getting a good diary and treating it as your personal bible. Learn to pencil in deadlines, assign yourself daily tasks, and organise your work in manageable chunks. This keeps you accountable for all your independent work, avoids last-minute breakdowns, and gives you plenty of time to seek guidance and feedback before submitting your final product.
Managing it all
It’s no understatement that postgraduate degrees are a lot of work. You may find yourself overwhelmed with your dissertation, coursework, and looming job applications. More than ever before, you need to establish a healthy working schedule and stay on top of time management.
My biggest advice for this is to start early. I get it, Netflix is much more appealing than reading 48 sources on the same topic for your literature review. But if you knock out little bits each day, you’ll avoid feeling overwhelmed right before the deadline hits. Make small tasks a part of your daily routine, and don’t be afraid to ask your tutors and cohort for help when you need it.
Moving into the adult world
Keen time management is also key as you start to consider what comes next. Are you thinking about doing a PhD? Applying for a job? This is a year to really explore your strengths and passions. It’s a year to define yourself as an outstanding applicant for your dream role.
I cannot stress enough how thankful I am that I started early with my job hunting. Sure, I may have fixated on this a bit too much (not recommended), but by the time summertime hit I was proud of how much my CV blossomed since last September. Not only had I tackled the bulk of my coursework itself, but I built up a portfolio of here-and-there volunteering, work, and freelance opportunities that made me stand out.
I also monitored potential PhD positions and job openings for months before I was ready to apply. Why? It gave me a sense of what was out there. Not only did this help me find CV-enhancing gigs that would tick boxes on future applications, but bouncing between hypothetical opportunities made me feel more secure in my final career path. So, I recommend starting early, honestly evaluating what you want from your degree and after your degree. Go full force in everything you do this year and try to have a goal in mind.
It will go by in a breeze
Before you know it, it will be next September. While time may drag on in your hours of library work, blurry-eyed before your dissertation abstract, you’ll wonder how an entire year vanished right before you. Take advantage of your time here – cherish every study session with your cohort, conquer every deadline, and make the most of every experience you have. Don’t make all your memories all about studying. Your master’s year has the potential to be so much more if you shape it as such – if there’s one thing I took away from last year, it’s that I wish it lasted longer.
Everything will be fine
You will grow unbelievably so during your year at UoM. Despite all the roadblocks along the way, your master’s will welcome endless learning opportunities. In your coursework and beyond, this is the most critical year of your life to understand, nurture, and become your best self.
Remember, your master’s degree is whatever you make it. So go ahead and make yours the most challenging, fulfilling, adventurous, and purposeful year of your life.